The UK based Restaurant, Hotel and Wine Review
The hotel consists of five magnificent stucco-fronted, porticoed houses in one of the garden squares so unique to London. Inside, the houses have been completely rebuilt, producing a futuristic, minimalist interior. A clever use of low voltage and hidden lighting almost creates the sensation of being in some sort of space-age vessel. But the ultra modern backdrop is off set by the choreographed placement of the few objects allowed to interrupt the pure white spaces.
An array of 49 white orchid plants, a beautiful but ancient looking flower, greet the visitor in the vestibule. Within the reception itself, there is a mirror-image arrangement of two pairs of enormous, water-filled Oriental urns, each positioned on a sunken table flanked by white cushions. An intriguing iridescent light escaping around all four edges of a square wall draws the curious into a pure white room, in the centre of which are placed two slatted wooden chairs.
Glass stairs lead down a blank white stairwell to the bar and restaurant. Here, the hungry are greeted by plainly clad staff wearing white chef's jackets over black trousers. Footwear is interestingly limited to white plimsolls - presumably so the staff can pad around without disrupting the air of pervading calm.
The Zen-like decor is continued in the restaurant and its monotone appearance does tend to make anyone who dares to wear colour feel garish and perhaps an offence to the carefully planned interior.
The staff are young, friendly and very professional: no request is too trivial or too much trouble. After seating and taking requests for drinks, they bring immaculate canapés, which tantalise the palate with a promise of treats to come.
The menu is a delight: it is best described as being a combination of Thai food, with an Italian influence, that is served in a Japanese style. I ordered honeyed duck, which can only be described as the best and most tender that I have ever been served. It came with a very spicy chilli salad in a delicately constructed filo basket with an exquisite dipping sauce.
The Bald One had marinated scallops, which were also a delight, but were, perhaps a little too raw for the squeamish. For the main course, I chose steak: this was cooked perfectly as ordered and served in two piles, immaculately sliced into identical rectangles. It came with an authentic papaya salad and a pepper dipping sauce. The Bald One ordered rack of lamb, which although less visually exciting than my dish, he proclaimed to be excellent. It all came with an interesting variety of green vegetables.
The meal was surprisingly filling and pudding was totally unnecessary, but when the traditional Malaysian dish of Padan pudding was recommended, the Bald One could not resist and we enjoyed it together.
Filter coffee served with complimentary chocolate mushrooms (too beautiful to eat, really) finished our amazing evening of perfection. The bill came to £112, which might seem expensive especially since this only included a gin and tonic and one glass of wine - all the little bits and pieces do add up. But we shall certainly be back: for a special occasion or simply because the stress of the city needs an antidote - an evening at I-Thai at The Hempel is worth every penny.
Lisa Teoh April 1999
I-Thai at The Hempel Hotel
31-35 Craven Hill Gardens London W2 3EA 020 7298 900
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